Beat the heat: How to cool your home this summer

·3 min read
Lloyd Alter shares some tips on how to cool down your home in the hot summers.  (CBC - image credit)
Lloyd Alter shares some tips on how to cool down your home in the hot summers. (CBC - image credit)

With temperatures expected to linger in the high 20s to early 30s next week, home air conditioners might seem crucial to some.

But Lloyd Alter, design editor at treehugger.com and author of Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle, said there are other ways to keep your home cool that are cheaper and more environmentally-friendly.

Keep the heat out

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

Alter said doors and blinds can be left closed during the day to stop the sun's warmth from getting in. During the night, windows can be opened to let the air in and cool down the house.

He said houses used to have two windows in each room so the air could blow through the home all day long, allowing for ventilation, but this isn't the case with newer homes now, Alter said.

"When you've got one little window facing one way and you open it up, you don't get any ventilation. They're designed now that it just doesn't work," he said. "So this is where we have to try other tactics."

Fans

Shutterstock / Ben Bryant
Shutterstock / Ben Bryant

Alter also recommends using fans, which use far less energy than air conditioners.

The four things that make people feel hot, according to Alter, are humidity, the temperature, air movement and what someone is doing.

While not much can be done about the humidity and temperature, Alter said the air movement can be altered with something like a fan.

Air movement will help moisture evaporate from the skin, he said.

What you're doing

Kory Siegers/CBC
Kory Siegers/CBC

Alter said there are also ways to cool down without using a machine. How you dress and when you eat can matter, for instance.

"There's a lovely phrase I like that 'We should be cooling with culture and not contraptions,'" he said.

Alter said that in Spain, a lot of people eat dinner late at night because it is cooler.

He said eating cold food outside at night could be a culture change.

Commercial changes

Edwin Hunter
Edwin Hunter

Cities can also make changes, according to Alter.

"Not so much pavement, not so much parking, white roofs," he said. "If you reflect the heat again before it comes in, it's much much more effective."

But Alter said the best thing to do to make buildings and the outside cooler is to plant more trees, which provide "fabulous shading."

Environmental impact of air conditioning

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Air conditioning has different levels of environmental impact depending on a person's location, said Alter.

He said if you're running an air conditioner that is using hydroelectricity, which is more common in places like Quebec, the impact on the environment is insignificant.

But in New Brunswick, where coal and oil are part of the mix in power generation, the use of an air conditioner would have a negative effect on the environment.

"What we first have to do is clean up our electrical system," said Alter. "If we do that, then it becomes much easier to say to people 'Well, run your air conditioner because, you know, it's being wind-powered and water-powered, instead of coal-powered."

He said if a house is designed properly, only a little air conditioning will be necessary to cool down the whole house.

Canadians didn't used to have to think about designing homes for hot, summer weather, Alter said.

"We have to start because [summers are] just going to keep getting hotter."

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